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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

The Sunday Pigeon Murders

cover image By: Rice, Craig (pseudonym of Georgiana Ann Randolph Craig) (female)
Publisher: Pocket Books, Inc. (434)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 361: PS3535 .I2217 S96 1947
Contributor: K. Dykstra

General

Era: 1940s Author as on Cover: Craig Rice Geographic Locale: New York City Date of Publication: 1947  |  Original Date: 1942 Setting: urban; varied social strata -- Bingo and Handsome seem to be working-class characters, but they interact with a series of wealthier characters, like the socialite Leonora Penneyth Motives: kidnapping, blackmail, insurance fraud, murder

Plot Summary

Bingo and Handsome are trying to make money with their photography business: they photograph people in Central Park, then hand over their business cards and offer to sell the photographs to the subjects themselves. Thanks to Handsome's photographic memory, they realize that they have a picture of a man who has been missing for almost seven years and is about to be declared dead. The missing man, S.S. Pigeon, leaves behind an insurance policy that is worth $500,000 to his former business partner, Harkness Penneyth. Bingo and Handsome cook up a plan to kidnap Mr. Pigeon just long enough for his death to be declared, hoping that the heir will kindly split his wealth with them. Before long, things go wrong. First of all, they decide that they like their kidnap victim. This is not too big a problem, because Mr. Pigeon is willing to be held, and Bingo and Handsome don't think that they are committing a serious crime by holding him. However, when other players in the game start turning up dead all around them, Bingo and Handsome have to solve the crime in order to save themselves and Mr. Pigeon from the same fate. Beautiful women, gangsters, a missing butler and a dramatic Latin American revolutionary poet all enter the story.


Major Characters

Robert Emmett Riggs "Bingo," adult male, sharp-featured, reddish hair, pale, short, skinny, gaudy clothes, partner in a rocky new business venture with the optimistic name, "International Foto, Motion Picture, and Television Corporation of America"

"Handsome" Kuzak adult male, broad shoulders, slim waist, dark hair, 6 feet tall, partner in a rocky new business venture with the optimistic name, "International Foto, Motion Picture, and Television Corporation of America"

S.S. Pigeon adult male, middle-aged, "a pleasant-looking little man with mild gray eyes and thinning gray hair," business partner to Harkness Penneyth; importer of antiques from Asia

Harkness Penneyth adult male, middle-aged, tall, slender, handsome, business partner to Mr. Pigeon, importer of antiques from Asia

Wilkins adult male, middle-aged, small, rather ordinary-looking, with black, slightly wavy hair, butler

Marty Bucholtz adult male, middle-aged, mobster

Art Frank adult male, middle-aged, gangster

Rufus Hardstone adult male, presumably middle-aged, "a tall, slender man, with silvery white hair that fell in a becoming lock over his high, classic brow, with a handsome chin, a Roman nose, and a pair of rimmed eyeglasses on a thin black cord," lawyer

Leonora Penneyth adult female, middle-aged, brassy blonde, "she must have been a gorgeous babe fifteen years ago. Now, her features were handsome, and her face showed the effect of expensive care, but there was a slight sagging along the chin, small puffs under the eyes, lightly drawn lines around the mouth," wealthy socialite

Baby Harrigan adolescent/adult female (possibly between 18 and 20), black hair, "a vest-pocket edition of a beautiful girl. Chubby (not fat, but pleasantly curved), short, with a "pretty little mug and a happy grin," works at a coat-check station

Rinaldo Juan Pablo Simon Bolivar Tinaja adult male, Hispanic, 20s, "a good-looking and very young man with dark, wavy hair, a slender, aquiline face, black, liquid eyes, and what would probably grow up in a few more years to be a fairly presentable mustache," a "poet and a patriot," recently arrived from La Paz to support his friend, Mr. Pigeon


Weapons

guns, knife


Level of Violence

violence tends to happen offstage; the reader arrives at murder scenes after the shootings have happened and the victims are dead. The disappearing body of Harkness Penneyth (which turns out to be the butler, Wilkins) perhaps creates more comedy and confusion than horror. We do see Art Frank's death, which happens quickly.


Sexuality

all of the characters whose sexuality is depicted seem to be heterosexual. Female characters seem to be bracketed into two slots: those who express their sexuality too much, and those who are "nice girls," the marrigeable types. June Logan and Leonora Penneyth are the overly expressive women whose sexuality gets them into dangerous, criminal, embarassing or otherwise undesirable situations. Baby Harrigan, though understood to be sexually attractive to the narrator, Bingo Riggs, remains a "nice girl" whom he surprises with a kiss while she is in her curlers and cold cream. Lucy James, another "nice girl," was the young woman whom Mr. Pigeon "rescued" from her life in China; her capitulation to the attractive Harkness Penneyth has led to her bad marriage and suicide, which happen before the book begins. There is a parallel between Baby Harrigan and Lucy James: each of these desirable young women chooses between two men. Baby will choose between Handsome and Bingo at the end of the tale (but the reader is left in suspense as to her choice.) Lucy James has already made the wrong choice. Eventually, we learn that everything in the story is a result of Lucy's bad choice: Mr. Pigeon had disappeared for nearly seven years in the hopes that his insurance money would benefit Lucy because she was married to his business partner -- he did not learn of her unhappiness in the marriage until after her death. Depiction of sexuality varies with the characters. We hear the story from Bingo's point of view, so the impressions we receive are his. He cannot describe Lucy James Penneyth to us except as a vague image from a photograph. His impression of Baby Harrigan is that she is a "nice" girl, but he also imagines her wearing revealing clothing. Bingo is propositioned by Leonora Penneyth, who disrobes in an attempt to seduce him; he is disgusted: "without her high-priced foundation garments she seemed to sag all over. She bulged in the wrong places and was hollowed in the wrong places. And the little blue veins stood out everywhere like rivers on a relief map. Once she must have been something to look at, with her clothes off. The pity of it was, she didn't know that time was past, long past." On the other hand, Bingo finds Mildred/June very attractive, with dark red hair and alluring clothing (including nighties). However, as soon as he learns that she has a past as a show girl and that she was the girlfriend of Marty Bucholtz and Harkness Penneyth, he treats her as open game: "He crossed the distance to her in two steps, grabbed her, and kissed her angrily and violently, one hand tangled in her dark-red hair. It was a long and purposeful kiss, and it had absolutely no effect on June Logan. She simply stood there and took it. She said nothing when Bingo let her go. 'Bingo,' Handsome said in a shocked voice, 'you oughtn't to have done that.' 'Oh, Mildred doesn't mind,' Bingo said, in his nastiest tone."


Gender Roles

Baby Harrigan works as a coat-check girl, and Bingo's romantic vision of proposing to Baby includes the assumption that she will give up her job after marriage. Other women in the novel are the wealthy socialite, the femme fatale who sonsorts with the criminal, the landlady and a maid who is seen once. Bingo would like to be a chivalrous hero, but he is not heroic. His friend, Handsome, in spite of his photographic memory and his quality of innocence, is not smart enough to be heroic. Mr. Pigeon tried to act in a heroic fashion regarding his lost love, but his intentions backfired. Nonetheless, Bingo and Handsome do solve the mystery by the end of the novel, allowing them to fulfill the detective's traditional role.


Ethnicity

race is not an issue, however, racial and ethnic characteristics are sometimes briefly registered. For example, "a cute little colored maid" enters the room to serve June Logan in one scene. Elsewhere, Handsome makes joking reference to "micks" and "wops." Bingo remarks that June Logan's temper shows that "she must be Irish;" Handsome answers, "My grandma had a worse temper'n that, and she was a Polack." Rinaldo Juan Pablo Simon Bolivar Tinaja, the spoofed Latin American revolutionary poet, is passionate, garrulous, companionable, and generally constructed out of stereotypes.


Alcohol/Drug Abuse

Bingo is handed a glass or two of hard liquor every time that he meets with Leonora Penneyth or June Logan. Eventually we learn that Leonora is an alcoholic. This loss of control over her behavior combines with sexual aggressiveness in Bingo's mind; he begins to find her disgusting, corrupt in both body and mind. June is not physically disgusting to him, but he treats her as morally corrupt. Baby Harrigan, on the other hand, sends some nice cold beer up to Bingo's apartment, which seems to contribute to the friendly (almost familial) scene around Mr. Pigeon. Drugs appear only when Handsome slips Mr. Pigeon a Mickey Finn at the beginning of the book to facilitate the kidnapping.


Law Enforcement

not an important factor; the focus is on the two accidental detectives, Bingo and Handsome.


Subject Headings

New York (N.Y.)/ Kidnapping/ Blackmail/ Murder


Psychological Elements

the narrator and protagonist, Bingo Riggs, is not traditionally heroic. He has a lot of negative characteristics, beginning with the fact that he's not honest -- he is willing to commit kidnapping, blackmail, and insurance fraud. His treatment of June Logan shows another negative feature of his character. However, the author's light tone draws our sympathies to Bingo and Handsome by making them more comic than threatening. The "real" bad guys, by contrast, move within a certain air of corruption. By the end of the novel, Harkness Penneyth is associated with several kinds of corruption: driving his young wife, "Pigeon's greatest treasure," to her suicide; consorting with June Logan; being the brother of Leonora Penneyth, whose substance abuse and revolting physical features contribute to the aura of Penneyth corruption; committing multiple murders. The Penneyth homes contain unhappy people, money, and dead bodies; in contrast, Bingo's apartment fills up with nice people who enjoy each other's company. The book ends on a light note: Bingo and Handsome, each of whom has received a $10,000 reward, visit Baby Harrigan to ask if she will date one of them.